Monday 4 March 2013

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest Review (NES)

Set in 1698, seven years after the original Castlevania, we find Dracula has placed a curse on his slayer Simon Belmont. The curse will gradually weaken and kill Simon meaning that when Dracula awakens once more there will be no more meddling Belmont’s to stop him.  In order to break the curse Simon must gather up the scattered parts of Dracula’s body, then resurrect and burn him, thus lifting the curse.

Castlevania II takes a different approach to the previous game. Instead of simple hack and slash levels we are now thrown into a more cultured role-play title. Simon must travel across the land collecting items and speaking to the inhabitants of villages and towns. This reveals vital information needed in order to solve the many puzzles you come across. Solving the puzzles allows you to locate where the castles are that hold Dracula's body parts, the castles must then be searched and the evil monsters that guard them defeated.

The move to a more adventure style of game suits the series very well. Simon now levels up after collecting enough experience points, while there are also numerous magical items and weapons to use against the minions of evil. To say the game is step forward from the original is a massive understatement, there is simply so much more to this than the prequel. The playing area acts as one huge maze as certain towns and castles can only be reached when various items are used in certain places. This acts to make you really think about where you are trying to get to. Furthermore, a day and night system is employed to great effect. At night monsters are a lot stronger and peaceful towns become infested with zombies, an excellent idea especially considering the subject matter.

Graphically, the game is the best looking of all the NES Castlevania games, characters though a touch small, are all excellently done and unlike in the other games never clash with their surroundings. Numerous different environments are all well represented with a wide colour palette being used to create towns, marshes and woods among others. However, slowdown and flickering are very apparent in places, especially inside castles and this detracts from what is generally a well-put together game.

Once you play the game it becomes clear that a lot of development has happened in terms of play mechanics, though you still cannot change direction while jumping the whole way you move around and fight has become so much better than the original. Climbing up stairs is no longer a matter of life and death with Simon going where you want him to, relieving a lot of the frustration that marred the previous game.

Overall, Castlevania II is an excellent adventure game and a massive progression in the series, The third installment moved back to the basic hack and slash action, which really is a missed opportunity (although the game itself is great). Simon’s Quest though is an absolute joy to play with an interesting plot and deep world to explore. Everything just seems to fit into place, even the sound is outstanding, meaning Castlevania II remains not only one of the best in the series but also one of the best adventure game of the eight bit generation.


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